Mass incarceration has shaped culture, politics, and policy in the U.S. for decades, but the explosive growth of imprisonment extends far beyond the U.S.
This course examines justice and incarceration to allow students to explore the distinct ways societies explain and understand punishment. In an era defined by the growth of prisons and the extensive reach of policing and surveillance, the course examines new kinds of imprisonment as well as innovative visions of justice. Through interpreting prisons and punishment in the U.S. and Europe as well as in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the course seeks to contextualize the radical differences between countries by also seeking to relate them to transnational strategies of policing and incarceration, particularly in relation to the global War on Drugs. The course focuses on how societies stigmatize populations to justify imprisonment, and how those stigmata circulate around the world, both through globalized media and government policy. With histories tied to racial slavery, prisons in many countries continue to be sites that reveal the fundamental power of racial and ethnic discrimination in shaping contemporary social relations.
After an in-depth evaluation of the problems and inequalities in prisons and punishment, the course turns to potential alternatives. First, students will consider justice and incarceration in distinct countries. They will then focus on alternative forms of justice based in the U.S., as well as bi-partisan attempts to reform prisons. This course challenges students to evaluate alternatives and craft forms of ethical leadership for changing models of justice. Students will discover, envision, and articulate their own unique model for changing one of the fundamental social problems of our time; punishment and imprisonment. Inquisitive students with willingness to investigate popular narratives and myths about prisons will thrive in this course as they develop critical thinking and communication skills.
Using a participatory teaching approach with project-based learning, in-class debate, and media analysis, the class prepares students for further study in fields including sociology, history, law, American and Latin American studies, political science, and ethnic studies.
This course is part of the Leadership Institute, a two-week academic program that helps students cultivate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes associated with effective and socially responsible leadership. This unique program consists of three integrated elements: academic content, leadership development, and the Action Plan. Our students are thoughtful and compassionate youth who are interested in social issues and creating positive change. Enrollment in this program requires several hours of online engagement prior to campus arrival. This online participation can be completed at any time where internet access is available. Once on campus, participants can look forward to full days in a community of engaged and curious learners.
Eric Larson earned his Ph.D. at Brown (’11) and is currently Assistant Professor of Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Larson has taught at several universities and won a 2012 Certificate of Teaching Excellence at Harvard University, and he also teaches courses at a local prison. He has written on the cultural politics of race, policing, and politics in transnational contexts, and his work is dedicated to showing how understanding the United States requires us to think about its impact around the world. Much of his research focuses on the idea of globalization, and how it highlights some global processes (like the music we choose or the clothes we buy) and obscures others (like the transnational circulation of forms of punishment and imprisonment). In his spare time, Larson loves playing guitar and talking music. He was born and raised in North Dakota but has lived in Colorado, Minnesota, and Oaxaca (Mexico), and is excited for students to get to know the wonderful city of Providence, Rhode Island. In the classroom, Larson emphasizes creative, student-centered learning experiences and provocative discussions that draw on students’ own experiences.